The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (February 6, 2011)

Lessons:Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12] Psalm 112:1-9 [10] (4) 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16] St. Matthew 5:13-20

Prayer of the Day: Lord God, with endless mercy you receive the prayers of all who call upon you.  By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do, and give us the grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:13 [Jesus said,] “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

St. Matthew 5:13-20, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Let Your Light so Shine before Others

Lent is just about a month away, and we’ll begin it as we always do. We’ll gather on Ash Wednesday. We’ll contemplate our sinfulness and our need for redemption. We’ll receive the mark of the ashes, as a reminder of our mortality and brokenness. And then we’ll turn to the Holy Gospel, and begin with these words: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” That’s one commandment from Jesus that many Lutherans have been particularly adept at obeying (that, and St. Mark 7:36).

In a striking contrast, here is this week’s Gospel lesson: You are salt that seasons the earth. You are the light of the world. You are as visible as a city built on a hill. You are a lamp, lit, and placed on a lamp stand.

We joke, sometimes, about our Lutheran heritage in the U. S. It is true that among Lutherans of Scandinavian and Germanic descent in small towns throughout the Midwest, there once was a great reluctance to be involved in public displays of faith. At the same time, don’t you remember that remarkable resident of your old home town? The one who was always on hand when some sort of need arose. The one who would stop by with a “hot dish” or a card or an offer to help around the house when a family was having a difficult time. The one who always seemed to have the right words to say at the right time. The one who was willing to do those thankless chores that nobody else wanted to do... but someone had to. The phrase “salt of the earth” comes to mind. It is a phrase well enough known that my American Heritage Dictionary picks up on it, defining “salt of the earth” as: The most admirable element of mankind (sic); the exemplary people.

Small towns can’t get along without a few of those “salt of the earth” types. Their constant grace and presence weaves its way into the fabric of the community, and comes to epitomize what is best about those settings. A police officer walks a lost child home. A drug store clerk helps an elderly person find what they need. A teacher stays late to help students with their studies. A machine shop worker volunteers as a scout troop leader. A homemaker teaches English to neighbors who grew up in another country. None of them “had to do it.” It wasn’t part of their job description. They did it because they are the kind of people who want to make a difference. The kind of people who believe that they are on this earth to make it a better place.  “Salt of the earth.”

You don’t have to be a person of faith to be “salt of the earth.” And truthfully (sadly?), many of these “most admirable” people don’t hold memberships in local congregations. But if you are a person of faith (and I’m assuming that most people who read this devotional are...), you need to know that this is the kind of life that Jesus calls us to live. You are salt that seasons the earth. You are the light of the world. You are as visible as a city built on a hill. You are a lamp, lit, and placed on a lamp stand.

As members of Christ’s family, we are God’s attempt to make a difference in this world. After the waters of our baptism flowed over our heads, the first words we heard were these: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven.” Not all of us are called to dramatic and highly publicized acts of faithfulness, but we are all called to live in such a way that our words and actions make a difference in this world. Salt of the earth. Light of the world. Indeed!

We are called to make a difference. The grace of God frees us from worrying about our salvation, in order to free us up to make a difference. The Holy Spirit fills us and inspires us to make a difference. Not so that “others will see us” (when we’re loved by one as great as God, we don’t find ourselves as desperate to be seen any more…). But so that others will see Christ, through us.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What was Jesus concerned about when he instructed his followers to not worry about “being seen” by others?
  2. What is the central theme of his message in this week’s Gospel lesson?
  3. How does this message fit with the message that we are all undeservedly and completely loved by God??

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I been inspired by someone else’s faithfulness?
  2. What are some gentle yet visible ways that I can witness to my faith?
  3. Who, in my life, might benefit from seeing God’s light through me?